I had to figure out what i was going to do with the sprouts in the shed. As spring progressed the grasshoppers grew, both in size and smarts. They were no longer hesitant enough for me to catch without the aid of my traps. The sprouts were wilting and dying in the darkness of the shed but i knew putting them outside would be like throwing a carcass to wolves. The grasshoppers would devour the sprouts down to a tiny green nub sticking out of the dirt, probably in a matter of hours. I attempted to buy mesh covers for the toy boxes online. However, the products ended up being on back order for 2+ months and when they did arrive the holes in the mesh were large enough to fit a full grown grasshopper through. I wondered how the company could even have called it “mesh”. After i realized the toy box mesh dome covers weren’t coming i gave up for a while. I wasn’t sure what to do. I let the sprouts whither in the shed and tried to focus on my work instead of what was happening to the seeds i had so painstakingly sprouted and coaxed into existence with hope and optimism. Then one sunday on my lunch break i decided to google solutions to my problem one more time. I navigated to the walmart website on my cell phone. As i scrolled down a “suggested products” list could be seen. There walmart made suggestions for purchase based on my past search history. Listed first in the suggestions bar was “mosquito net tent”. I nearly flipped out of my chair. That’s it! It’s looney enough it just might work! The wind would go through the mesh rather than into it, so it wouldn’t crumple in a heap during its first thunder storm. The mesh was small enough to keep grasshoppers out, and it would let sunlight in. I immediately put it in the basket. The thing didn’t arrive until the end of April. I remember it because it was the afternoon and i was dead tired. I didn’t want to mess with constructing a tent that day, but it was something like two days till May and half the sprouts in the shed had either wilted or perished. I needed to replace some of the dead sprouts with live specimens from a plant nursery. The nursery owner had laughed at me when i asked what veggies would be available for purchase in May. She said they only had a few tomatoes and cucumbers left right at that moment and everything would be gone come may 1. So after a string of cuss words and feet jammed into steel-toed boots i set out to retrieve the box from the shed and erect a mosquito net tent just before sundown.
The instructions said “60 second assembly”. I stared at the heap of plastic and mesh before me. 60 second assembly my ***. I spit venomous words and huffed and grunted as i pulled the heap this way and that, attempting to make some part of it stand up vertically. First i had it inside out. Once i realized and fixed that problem i had another one at hand. I was supposed to pull the top bar of each piece of the frame up towards the sky, away from the bottom bar it was attached to, until i felt and heard a click. I pulled the top bar more, less, more, less…i tried other bars. None of them clicked. It wasn’t until i realized that i just wasn’t tall enough to make the bars go up high enough to click that i began making headway. I made the realization while stretched out on the ground amongst the wolf spiders and the chiggers, a lower bar between my knees and the upper bar attached to it held above my head, desperately attempting to separate them until “click!” I froze in stunned silence. Then i began screaming, “oh!! Oh! Oh! I’m just not tall enough! That’s all. Just needs higher! Oh! Oh!” I ran about, standing on tippy toe, pulling all the other bars apart until “click”! Finally, the tent was up. I wiped the dirt from my clothes, exhausted. Now the thing needed staked into the ground. I ran to the house and grabbed my hammer from the tool box. I hammered the stakes through the little tabs on the bottom of the tent, staking it into the ground. Then i pulled up what little local vegetation was growing in the mosquito net tent area. I dug up all my sprouts and sat them in cups of water to await transplant. I dragged all the toy boxes to the tent area where i poured the potting soil on the ground inside the tent and the mulch underneath it at the base of the tent on the outside. I managed to get all the potting soil into the tent and the mulch built up around the outside of the tent right as the sun set and the yard descended into darkness. I finished my chores for the night, watering my plants and collecting well water, by lamp light. It was not what i had wanted to do with my evening as i was winding down for the night but if i had any intention of buying vegetable plants it had to be done by the following morning. It was erected and all the dirt and mulch was in place. The following afternoon, after work, i would be able to visit the plant nursery in town and get whatever plants were left before the 1st of may.
When i was hammering in the stakes, to my surprise, they slid right into the ground. I never hit rock. I stood back and rubbed my forehead. I wondered, “How could this be?” The entire property sat on a slab (or many overlapping and adjacent slabs) of limestone rock covered by a few inches of top soil and then grass. How had the stakes gone in without hitting rock? The answer had to do with the area i had chosen to erect the tent. I had put the tent in the only spot on my entire 2 acre property with any natural shelter from the wind. It was surrounded by woods on 3 sides. An overhang of oak branches protected it from above and curled around its sides. It was like a little rounded cove. It was pretty shaded by the woods and the branches directly overhead but during huge wind gusts i had stood in that spot and felt nothing but a light breeze. I felt, after the green house debacle, wind protection was more important than exposure to sun, so i chose the spot for the tent based on that criteria. What i didn’t realize was that the dead leaves i was standing on as i erected the thing were dropped there in mass quantity every year, and being sheltered from the wind, they didn’t blow away. For years the oak trees above had been dropping loads of leaves and those leaves had rotted and turned to dirt. The area i had erected the mosquito net tent on was full of naturally-composted leaf dirt and probably the only spot on the whole property where my stakes wouldn’t have hit limestone. This would be good deep soil for the plants to dig their roots into.
I went to lowes, home depot, and the plant nursery in town. I found a stray plant here, a stray plant there…i found a japanese eggplant, a lemon cucumber, and a purple bell pepper plant. I got some cucumber plants, as my cucumber sprouts had all wilted and died. I also saw the tomato section at home depot and had a thought. Most tomato plants required a certain root depth before they would put out flowers to make tomatoes. That meant they would not do well in containers where the roots could not stretch to that depth. I was forced to buy “patio tomato” and “husky red cherry tomato” plants that were made for containers and had no depth requirements. I had long pined over the interesting tomato varieties that were off limits to me; the purples, the oranges, the sweet and the savory tomatoes with all their little description cards… i wanted to plant an exciting tomato now that i had an open bottomed tent and the roots could grow as deep as they pleased. A tiny little tomato plant caught my eye. It was called the “candyland” tomato. It was supposed to produce little orange tomatoes that were said to be sweet like candy. I was intrigued. Into the basket my new treasure went!
There was not much of a strategy to the order in which sprouts were planted. The ones that had sat in cups of water in the shed were clearly dying so i just hurried, scrambling to put them in the ground as soon as i could. i knew i would need tomato cages for the peas, beans, and tomato so i tried not to put them too close to the tent walls so the mesh wouldn’t snag on the metal cages if the wind blew. On top of that, the sprouts had been moved so many times, i wasn’t sure what was what anymore. I wasn’t sure if i was staring at a cantaloupe or a zucchini at that point.
One side was mostly squash and the other side of the tent was mostly beans, with other plants peppered in amongst them.
In the back of the tent i planted the potatoes that i had salvaged from the wreckage after the jack rabbits and deer found them amongst the mangled pieces of the green house.
As time went on the plants grew bigger. The tent withstood wind well and weathered many storms, including two bad ones that produced tornados right near us. Though i had to go out and build the mulch up again, the stakes held and the tent remained. It seemed i had finally found how i was going to garden on a texas property with little soil, mostly rock, jack rabbits, deer, wicked powerful summer storms, and biblical amounts of grasshoppers. this last ditch effort, this after-thought of an idea, a piece of glamping gear…was working.